Honolulu Lite

Charles Memminger

Yakuza were nicer
owners of Coconut Isle

I never thought I'd feel nostalgic about the days when the yakuza -- the Japanese mafia -- was making its presence known in Hawaii, its members buying up property and slipping into town to golf.

But as a friend and I paddled kayaks around Coconut Island in Kaneohe Bay last weekend, I was really missing those tattooed galloots with the missing fingertips. That's because at one time, a yakuza figure owned half of Coconut Island and because the U.S. Attorney's office wouldn't let the yakuza boss into Hawaii to visit his island, the paddling public was free to glide into the lovely lagoon on the island's north side, where John Wayne and his Hollywood buddies once played. Or where I could take my daughter to look for driftwood on the little sandy beach on the island's east side. Or where we could get out anywhere on the yakuza-owned side of the island to stretch our legs.

Not anymore. Ironically, now that "we" -- the taxpayers -- own the island, "we" aren't allowed on it. Well, except for a weed-choked point of land the size of a living room on the island's south side that is decorated with a large "KAPU!" sign warning against fishing, and further decorated with "No Trespassing" signs so picnickers won't accidentally wander onto the sacred ground controlled by the University of Hawaii.

How Coconut Island suddenly became the "Island of Dr. Moreau" after "we" bought it, I don't understand.

MY FRIEND AND I were cruising past the shuttle boat dock when we were accosted by the guy whose job it is to shuttle researchers and students from the Kaneohe-side dock to the island. He warned us to stay away from the pens housing dolphins and fish and complained that kayakers were a big problem.

We were just there to enjoy the glory of the coral patches and view the "free" fish (those not in pens). This guy not only didn't want us ON the island, he didn't even want us NEAR it. We felt like Marlon Brando's "Wild Bunch" riding into town on motorcycles. (Girl: "What are you rebelling against?" Brando: "Whataya got? Seafood?")

The fact is that the UH marine biology program is conducting some laudable experiments and research on the island, but UH officials have forgotten that Coconut Island belongs to the taxpayers. And people who want to merely look at it from a kayak should not be treated like criminal interlopers.

The island shoreline is literally littered with "No Trespassing" signs. I was yelled at by security guards when I paddled into the lagoon a few years ago, unaware that once the UH took over the whole island, the lagoon became off limits to the public.

There's no reason for the Gestapo-like feel of the island, the surly security and the terse, unfriendly signs. The UH should lighten up on kayakers or turn half the island over to someone a little more public-friendly, like the head of the Yamachuchi-gumi.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Charles Memminger, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists' 2004 First Place Award winner for humor writing, appears Sundays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. E-mail


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